It’s Canning Time

Reader Contribution by Laura Damron
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I spent most of this weekend canning tomatoes for the winter. I popped by my local farm store on Saturday to see what they had available; the weather forecast was calling for rain for pretty much the entire long weekend – perfect for canning! Lucky for me, they had two crates of tomatoes: one Roma, and one mixed heirlooms. Hooray! I texted my mom and sister from the parking lot, and we set up plans for a canning marathon on Sunday.

Because the heirloom tomatoes have a high water content, I opted to start roasting them as soon as I got home so that they’d be ready by morning. I cut them up into evenly sized chunks, and without any seasoning or oil, roasted them on a sheet pan for about an hour a batch, at 250 F. I propped the oven door open a crack, just to make sure all that steam was able to escape. Once the hour had passed, I moved them from the oven to my slow cooker. Once that was full, I began filling a second pot on my stove. Twenty-five pounds of heirlooms later, I had 12 quarts simmering happily away.

I can’t even begin to tell you how good my house smelled, by then. Delish!

I left the slow cooker to simmer overnight, but I needed to turn off the one on our stove. We have an older electric range, and even on low, it runs hotter than I’d like. There’s no way I could trust it not to burn the sauce, if I left it unattended overnight. No worries, though – in the morning, the slow cooker had cooked down quite a bit, so it evened out in the end.

I ran both pots of sauce through my food mill to remove the seeds and skins. I prefer doing it this way, over peeling, coring and seeding the tomatoes up front, because I feel like I’m retaining more flavor in the long run. It’s totally a personal preference, though. Once everything was milled, the sauce went back over heat to cook down a little more, and the seeds and skins went into the dehydrator.

We canned the sauce pretty quickly; it only took a couple of hours, and most of that was waiting while they were in the water bath. Once the sauce was done, we moved on to the Romas. For versatility, we wanted to can those whole – so we scored, blanched, shocked and peeled that 25 pounds of tomatoes, prepping them for a hot-pack in the pressure canner.

In hindsight, I probably should have cut the larger tomatoes in half while packing the jars. Some of them were huge, and there was a bit of siphoning of the liquid out of the jars during the process. It wasn’t awful, though; only three jars didn’t seal, out of everything we canned on Sunday. We ended up with around 30 jars total, between both batches … not too shabby.

I may do another small batch of sauce, as my tomatoes here ripen. But even if I don’t, for just that one day of work, I probably won’t need to buy any tomato products from the store over the winter. Well worth the effort, I must say! Oh, and those jars that didn’t seal? I used two of them to make lunch yesterday: fresh tomato soup with basil, shallot and garlic. That was the perfect way to kick off another quick round of canning. (Pears, this time!)

What’s your favorite way to can tomatoes?

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